Winners of (almost) all recent major hockey tournaments played a more skillful, passing game

This is just an opinion column. I’m not quoting hard data. I believe the winners of (almost) all recent major hockey tournaments played a more skillful, passing game compared to other contenders who tried to overcome superior skills with dump-chase-hit game plans. Review the list of winners from the last decade or so, and see how many exceptions there are to this generalization. What style of play characterized Stanley Cup winners, Olympic gold medalists, high school, bantam and college champions?

No doubt, dump-and-chase is part of a winning strategy at times, because when the defensive team traps effectively, it’s one way for the offense to regain possession of the puck. “You take what the defense gives you.” However, dump-and-chase becomes less viable if forwards who dump it in are not allowed to skate 70 feet at top speed and run the defense into the boards. Right now, the referees are part of the strategy by ignoring these charging infractions.

The 2018 Minnesota Hockey Bantam AA and Minnesota State High School League boys’ Class AA champs were a refreshing model for the game of hockey. Osseo/Maple Grove Bantam AA and Minnetonka High School did a lot of things right, of course: going after loose pucks and forechecking super-hard. They protected the puck with their body more than they hit bodies for the sake of hitting, but you better not carry the puck with your head down, because they can also be physical. Skating speed and agility, stickhandling, shooting skills and tenacious defense were painfully obvious to every opponent. Yes, these are great players individually, but the same could be said of many opponents.

It’s the INTERDEPENDENCE of OMG and Tonka – the way they moved the puck and used teammates to attack on offense. That’s what set these two teams apart from others.

For many teams, some talented Bantams are able to carry the puck through traffic, beat everyone on the other team and deke the goaltender. The top forward (or two or three) for OMG have that ability, but they choose, instead, to pass deceptively at just the right time. Because the leaders do it, the whole team does, and the result is unbeatable SYNERGY. This means the impact of their attack is greater than the sum of individual parts.

The U.S. and Canadian women were evenly matched going into the Olympics. They’re the best skaters in the world, the most skillful, and they’re all gritty competitors. Many exhibition games ended up in overtime, and the gold medal game was won in a shootout. But – this is my biased opinion again – as the game moved into the third period and overtime, the U.S. team kept up their speed-skill-passing game. The Canadians’ skill and speed were not as evident as in the first two periods. High-speed skill and puck possession wore them down.

We’ve seen it in every NCAA Frozen Four in the last decade or more: the most skillful team – Google the list – the best passing team won it all.

So perhaps we’re recovering slowly from the devastating impact the 1970s Philadelphia Flyers had on the game. The Broad Street Bullies who won the 1974 and 1975 Stanley Cups made no pretense of playing by the rules. Fred Shero, the mastermind coach, knew the refs would call the same number of penalties on each team, so they broke bones and carved out facial lacerations while the other team got softer penalties for accidental trips.

Not that hockey didn’t have its goons throughout history, but the Flyers took it to another level, establishing for every coach the fact that (illegal) intimidation works. Sadly, the evolution of the dump-and-chase game has relied on that to some extent.

So I applaud those teams who do it with skill, and at higher levels of hockey – like the playoffs – skill means interdependence. Passing. To the winning coaches and players, I say: WELL DONE.